Viewed 2073 times
In 1948, during an Alberta Intermediate league game between the Banff Mountaineers and Exshaw, Dr. Pat Constigan had a busy night. In the middle of the match he was summoned from his position on defense with the familiar, “Is there a doctor in the house?” He was duty bound, of course, to doff his skates and lay aside his equipment to deliver a baby girl. He returned in time to help his sextet to victory.
To be granted the title of “doctor” is just about the highest honour an individual can receive, whether in academics or in medicine. So to many, it may seem curious to connect those upon whom such high intellectual demands are made to a physical game like hockey. However, in the early days of Canada’s national game, virtually every organized squad involved the well-to-do, who belonged to fraternities akin the country clubs of our day. The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, for instance, was the first team to have their names engraved on the prestigious Stanley Cup.
Other aggregations, like the Toronto Canoe Club or the Argonaut Rowing Club, for example, abounded with doctors, lawyers, and other professionals as members. University teams made up a large segment of the leagues in those fledgling years of the sport. The Dentals, whose moniker is worth a thousand words, won the OHA crown and the Allan Cup in 1917. The squad was stocked with both future dentists and physicians who were attending the University of Toronto.
It was a dentist, in fact, who was responsible for the organization of the world’s first openly pay-for-play shinny circuit. Dr. Jack Gibson, who skated in the amateur ranks around Berlin (Kitchener), Ontario, set up his practice in Houghton, Michigan and was the founder and captain of the Portage Lakers, a barnstorming shinny septet. After dominating every opposition outfit the previous season, in 1904/05 they took their place alongside other Michigan mercenaries, Pittsburgh, and eventually the Canadian Soo, in the formation of the International League.
Dr. Rod Smylie was the first sawbones to align himself with an NHL team. He was a member of the aforementioned Dentals, and in 1920, his last academic year, he became part of the Toronto St. Pats, forerunners of the Maple Leafs. While his brother covered for him at St. Michael’s Hospital, he starred for the Irish in their 1922 Stanley Cup tournament in Vancouver. A specialist in allergies, he played a handful of games with Toronto and Ottawa until 1926, and has been tagged as “the first, and likely the last, intern to moonlight on a Stanley Cup winning team!”
Two of Smylie’s teammates on the Dentals were Dr. Jerry Laflamme, who became a referee of some note, and Dr. Charles Stewart. A star net minder with the Hamilton OHA Tigers, the latter was chosen as the original goalie for the new NHL contingent in Boston in 1924/25. He, according to the press, was “50 per cent of the Boston aggregation!” However, as the 1926-27 schedule wound down, recurring eye problems forced him to turn in his Beantown sweater.
The year that “Doc” Stewart bade farewell to the world’s premier loop, William Joseph Carson joined the Toronto NHL team, by then renamed Maple Leafs. Another dentist by trade, he quickly gained the reputation as a first rate puckster.
When a poll was taken of spectator favourites in the 10 NHL cities, Carson was chosen as the Queen City representative. Therefore it is one of those mysteries surrounding pro sport why he was sold to Boston for cash following his second (and improved) campaign in Toronto. He was the hero in the Bruins’ 1929 Stanley Cup win over the Rangers, scoring the deciding marker in a 2-1 triumph!
After seven games for the International League London Tecumsehs, he retired to pursue his chosen occupation. However, the thrill of slashing skate blades and bounding pucks was just too much for the poke-checking magician, and in the fall of 1933 he donned the livery of the New Haven Eagles of the Can-Am circuit, where he was immediately named team captain. Following a single schedule back in harness, he hung up his blades to become team scout-but soon settled into his dental practice in Elora, Ontario.
The 1920’s and 1930’s featured a number of profiles of other pro players who chose a medically-related bi-vocation. For instance, “Duke” McCurry, although born in Toronto, chose to study molar management in Pittsburgh, PA. During his courses there he hooked up with the old Yellow Jackets squad. When this amateur club morphed into the NHL Pirates, he moved right up to the next level of the game. Always taking a rough and tumble approach to hockey his stats included a generous amount of penalty minutes.
This mean streak was demonstrated one evening in 1928 when his fledgling pay-for-play sextet faced the Boston Bruins. Suddenly his stick found itself in collision with Eddie Shore’s jib. When the referee “overlooked” this rule violation, the “Edmonton Express” took matters into his own hands. On the way to the sin bin the two exchanged pleasantries and the Duke’s lumber made contact in the same manner again. True to form a melee resulted. He eventually returned to the Queen City set his dental practice.
Dr. Stan Brown was a star with the Toronto Dentals which played out of the University of Toronto. His talents caught the eye of the powers-that-be who managed the school’s Varsity Blues. After a lengthy stop in Sault St. Marie, he got his chance in the NHL with the New York Rangers in 1926-27. He was traded to the Detroit Cougars, and after a season became a part of the Montreal Canadien’s organization. He spent four years with their farm club in Windsor, coached the club for a short time, then retired to his more permanent profession.
Bill Carse is one of the few skaters who had the privilege of being a teammate with his brother on the same NHL team. During the 1941-42 campaign both siblings were are part of the Windy City aggregation. This was his final kick at the Big Time can, having skated for the Rangers in 1938-39. He coached in the PCHL in the late 1940’s then, rather than return to his native Alberta to brave the frigid temperatures of Edmonton, he migrated to Honolulu to practice dentistry.
Bobby Copp played a full season as a rearguard with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942-43. But feeling the call to military service, he joined the Canadian army as a member of the Royal Dental Corps. stationed in Ottawa. He joined the local Quebec Senior Hockey League club, helping his Senators to bring home the Allan Cup in 1949. According to local newspaper reports he was a key member of the Barber Poles. There was a note of panic when he was injured and the team tried to survive without his service. Even though he made a two-game appearance with the Buds in 1950-51, he made the nation’s capital his home and the site of his 58 years of dental practice.
Gerry Wilson, M.D., father of Carey, and grandfather of Colin, specialized in orthopedic and rehabilitative medicine in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Although born in Edmonton, he worked his way through the more easterly western province’s minor hockey system. He starred with the St. Boniface Canadiens in 1953/54, moving to their Montreal Junior namesakes in 1955. Unfortunately, his junior career was fraught with recurring shoulder and knee injuries which took him through five orthopedic operations.
This limited him to three matches in the memorial Cup finals with the baby Habs (then based in Ottawa) in their series against Flin Flon. By the summer he was on the surgeon’s table
again, with the result he missed the next two hockey seasons altogether. He had managed three games with the parent Montreal Canadiens in 1956-57, but was eventually sold to the rival Maple Leafs.
A serious knee injury while playing in the minors in 1959-60 brought his career as a shinny mercenary to a screeching halt. The realization that he would never competitively again play the game he loved so much was totally devastating. So it was that while in Florida contemplating what his future might be, he awoke one day to the realization that he should be a doctor. It meant playing catch-up in his education. But he persevered and finally completed courses at the University of Manitoba and earned his degree.
Two of the games monumental events took place eight years apart. The “Summit Series”, featuring Paul Henderson’s dramatic goal in 1972, is one. The other is remembered as the 1980 “Miracle on Ice”, when the USA pulled off an unheard coup in that year’s Olympics. Nine members of that squad made it to the NHL. Some better-known competitors were Neil Broten, Ken Morrow, and Mike Ramsey. The rest, including Captain Mike Eruzione settled into a more routine way of life.
Bill Baker was a solid performer during the entire tournament, but is remembered for his tying goal against Sweden, which allowed the Americans to advance to the medal round. He was captain of the University of Minnesota varsity sextet during his years of studying to be an oral surgeon. He was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1976 draft. He also patrolled the blueline for the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Blues, and New York Rangers. He realized his ambition and carried out his practice in Brainerd, Minnesota until his retirement in 2015.
Without a doubt the best-recognized NHL’er to bear the enviable title of “doctor” was Randy Gregg. Hockey columnist Eric Duhatschek once wrote of this aspiring physician: “He wanted to represent his country in the Olympics, play professionally in the top league in the world, and become an orthopedic surgeon. In a 10-year career that spanned two continents, three leagues, three Stanley Cups, and one Canada Cup championship, he essentially has done it all!”
Following four years at the University of Alberta, Gregg played with Canada’s National Team, which required him to take a one-year hiatus from pursuing his dreams. But, almost in storybook fashion he went back to it during summers, and did a rotating internship. During his first stint with the Oilers from 1983 through 1988, he admitted it was difficult to fulfill his four-year residency. That fell into place when he “retired” in the spring of 1990. In 1991 he accepted Vancouver’s invitation to join them through the waiver draft, but skated only 21 games before hanging them up for good.
Although he occasionally diagnosed his teammate’s hurts and stitched a few faces, he claimed the Oilers were not paying him to be the team doctor. Nevertheless, on a Minneapolis-to-Edmonton flight in 1989 he did respond to the “Is there a Dr. in the house?” appeal, and tended to a heart attack victim.
A number of NHL’ers have chosen the operating room or dentist chairs over the years. Phil Samis, Al Simmons, and Fred Arthur come to mind. But not since hockey’s infancy has anyone other than Randy Gregg managed to combine the hockey stick and stethoscope so effectively at the same time.
Viewed 2073 times
Second Thoughts on Penalties
Posted April 14, 2019
His Night to Howell
Posted March 30, 2019
Posted March 18, 2019
Humour - A Way to Catch Your Balance
Posted March 03, 2019
The Revival of Hockey's Lost Art of Stickhandling - Part 2
Posted February 15, 2019
The Revival of Hockey's Lost Art of Stickhandling - Part 1
Posted February 01, 2019
The Rise and Fall of Sweater Number 9
Posted January 23, 2019
Penalty-Free NHL Games
Posted January 09, 2019
The Greatest of These is Charity
Posted December 22, 2018
Minor League 'Davids' Defeating Major League 'Goliaths'
Posted December 07, 2018
The Shadow Knows
Posted November 25, 2018
Lying Down on the Job
Posted November 04, 2018
The Perils and Pleasures of Water
Posted October 19, 2018
Hockey's Cinderella Teams
Posted October 07, 2018
Posted May 19, 2018
Hockey's Classic Embarrassing Moments
Posted May 10, 2018
Playing in a Fog
Posted April 21, 2018
Posted April 08, 2018
First Game, First Shift, First Goal!
Posted March 26, 2018
Always a Bridgroom
Posted March 12, 2018
The Year the Canadiens Almost Died
Posted February 24, 2018
Tangled With the Law and the Lawless - Part 2
Posted February 17, 2018
Tangled With the Law and the Lawless
Posted January 28, 2018
Lucky Black Cats and Number 13
Posted January 17, 2018
Concussions in Hockey Nothing New
Posted December 30, 2017
The Best Christmas I Remember
Posted December 18, 2017
Filling the Gap
Posted December 01, 2017
Off Duty Injuries; mishaps away from the rink
Posted November 13, 2017
The Most Cruel Bird of All
Posted October 26, 2017
Las Vegas — NHL's 31st Team — Knights or Knaves?
Posted October 13, 2017
Playing Under the Influence - of Pain
Posted May 29, 2017
In Tune Pucksters
Posted May 14, 2017
Laughter - The Best Medicine
Posted April 29, 2017
The Last Straw
Posted April 15, 2017
Whose Side Are You On Anyway?
Posted March 30, 2017
Ferreting Out Phantom Hockey Stars
Posted March 17, 2017
A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 2)
Posted March 08, 2017
A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 1)
Posted February 19, 2017
Tales From the Sin Bin!
Posted February 04, 2017
Happy 100th Birthday N.H.L
Posted January 25, 2017
New Year's Resolutions that Might Have Been
Posted January 06, 2017
It Happened on December 25th
Posted December 21, 2016
The Best of Hockey's One-Liners
Posted December 10, 2016
The Price of Stardom
Posted November 18, 2016
Auston Matthews: Liberator or Lemon?
Posted October 14, 2016
Hockey's Multi-Generation Families
Posted June 16, 2016
Picture Perfect - A Dozen Classic Hockey Photos
Posted June 08, 2016
Anatomy of the Penalty Shot
Posted May 17, 2016
Hockey's Honourary Indian Chiefs
Posted May 04, 2016
Posted April 17, 2016
Records That Will Never Be Broken
Posted March 31, 2016
Right Church — Wrong Pew
Posted March 23, 2016
Does "Captain" Mean Much Anymore?
Posted March 02, 2016
Posted February 21, 2016
Now That's Not Pun-ny!
Posted February 07, 2016
A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 2
Posted January 26, 2016
A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 1
Posted January 06, 2016
Posted December 29, 2015
Practice Can Be Precarious
Posted December 11, 2015
How Much is a Body Worth?
Posted November 25, 2015
Brooklyn Bridge is Falling Down...
Posted November 15, 2015
Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part Two)
Posted November 01, 2015
Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part One)
Posted October 16, 2015
From Champs to Chumps
Posted June 07, 2015
CLEAN PLAY……CLEAN PLAYERS….TRUE SPORTS
Posted May 11, 2015
Putting the Bite on the Opposition
Posted April 24, 2015
One Eyed Wonders
Posted April 12, 2015
Captain Cage Cop
Posted March 26, 2015
Trade Deadline Deals — Blockbuster or Bluster?
Posted March 17, 2015
Fun In the Snow
Posted February 27, 2015
Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated
Posted February 16, 2015
It's not what they said - it's what they meant!
Posted January 31, 2015
Posted January 18, 2015
Hockey's New Years Babies
Posted January 03, 2015
Strange Gifts - Christmas or Otherwise
Posted December 20, 2014
Two Dozen + 1 Wacky Wonders
Posted December 06, 2014
The Last of a Long Line of...
Posted November 24, 2014
A Compendium of Referee Non-Calls
Posted November 09, 2014
40th Anniversary of the 1974 Summit Series
Posted October 25, 2014
The Many Faces of Training Camp
Posted October 13, 2014
The Rise and Fall of Playoff Heroes
Posted May 30, 2014
Boston Bruins Celebrate 90 Years
Posted May 17, 2014
A Curse Upon Ye!
Posted May 01, 2014
For the Birds
Posted April 20, 2014
They Were Not Fooled By Their Birthdates
Posted April 08, 2014
Bitten By The Hand That Feeds
Posted March 22, 2014
Tongue in Check
Posted March 08, 2014
A Few L.A.F.F.S. to Relieve your S.A.D.
Posted February 21, 2014
The Ultimate Valentine - A Kiss
Posted February 08, 2014
Hats Off to Hockey
Posted January 25, 2014
Posted January 11, 2014
New Year's Revelations
Posted December 30, 2013
Posted December 23, 2013
Esposito vs Esposito - Smith vs Smith
Posted November 30, 2013
Just Dying to Play Hockey
Posted November 17, 2013
What's In 50 Years
Posted November 02, 2013
The Ongoing Resolve - NHL Season is Too Long!
Posted October 20, 2013